MARYVILLE, TN – The charge of aggravated cruelty to livestock against Larry Joe Wheelon was dismissed today by General Sessions Judge Robert L. Headrick because a key State witness, Veterinary Medical Officer (VMO) Bart Sutherland, DVM, was disqualified and not allowed to testify.The reason Dr. Sutherland was not allowed to testify because the Judge found he was improperly present in the courtroom while other witnesses were testifying. When asked what he was doing in the courtroom, Sutherland answered that he had been invited to come into the Courtroom by USDA Office of Inspector General Special Agent In Charge Karen Citizen-Wilcox.
USDA OIG SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE KAREN WILCOX AND OIG SPECIAL AGENT JULIE MCMILLIAN AFTER CASE DISMISSAL
Here is how it went down. At the beginning of the Preliminary Hearing, all witnesses who were to testify were sworn in, then the rule was invoked, and the Judge ordered them to be removed from the courtroom and not return until it was time for them to testify.
BLOUNT COUNTY GENERAL SESSIONS JUDGE ROBERT L. HEADRICK
First, Defense attorney, Robert White, concluded his cross examination of Special Agent Julie McMillan from the previous day, which included questions ranging from possible obstruction of justice by McMillian to McMillian’s fear that Larry Joe Wheelon might cause harm to Terry Hughes, a former employee. Attorney White asked McMillian, “Did you think Mr. Wheelon was going to put out a hit on Terry Hughes? Agent McMillian said, “It was possible” and that when Terry Hughes could not be found for a period of time, she was “very worried”.
DEFENSE ATTORNEY WHITE QUESTIONING SPECIAL AGENT JULIE MCMILLIAN
Then Assistant District Attorney called USDA Animal Care Specialist Beverly Hicks who explained how she did swabbing tests on the horses on the April 18, 2013 raid on Wheelon’s barn. The sample test kits were submitted as Exhibits. Defense attorney White briefly cross examined Hicks, and then she stepped down.
APHIS ANIMAL CARE SPECIALIST BEVERLY HICKS
The State called Nina Margaretson who was present at the April 18, 2013 raid on Wheelon’s barn who testified that she made a video of VMO Bart Sutherland, DVM, examining a Tennessee Walking horse. The video was submitted as an Exhibit. Defense attorney White briefly cross examined Margaretson and she stepped down.
USDA VIDEOGRAPHER NINA MARGARETSON
Then District Attorney Ellen Berez called her star witness VMO Bart Sutherland, VMO, who came to the front of the courtroom. Sutherland asked to be sworn in as a witness because he had not been sworn as a witness earlier and there was discussion as to why not. Sutherland explained that he was not present earlier. Judge Headrick asked if he had been present in the courtroom while Hicks and Margaretson were testifying. Sutherland said yes. Judge Headrick asked Dr. Sutherland how that came to be. Sutherland said he was invited to enter by USDA Office of Inspector General Special Agent In Charge Karen Citizen-Wilcox. Citizen-Wilcox is the superior of USDA OIG Special Agent Julie McMillian who investigated the case and brought the charge of aggravated animal cruelty under Tennessee law against Larry Joe Wheelon. It is not presently known if Special Agent Citizen Wilcox was present at the beginning of the Hearing or was aware of Judge Headrick’s instructions when she invited Dr. Sutherland to come into the courtroom.
Defense attorney Robert White then adamantly objected to Sutherland being allowed to testify because he had been present in the courtroom listening to the other witnesses for about 20-30 minutes. Judge Headrick sustained White’s objection, and Sutherland was disqualified from testifying.
District Attorney Berez attempted to recall Margaretson, but White objected that her testimony was complete and it would be improper to allow her to retake the stand. Judge Headrick agreed and sustained White’s objection.
Berez then called Rachel Cezar, DVM, but White also objected to her testifying because Cezar had not been present the day of the raid on April 18, 2013.
Berez had no other witnesses to call and rested.
Defense attorney Robert White then made a Motion To Dismiss the charge based on the fact that the State had not met its burden to show that a crime had been committed.
Judge Headrick explained the law was clear and that he would grant Attorney White’s Motion To Dismiss the charge of aggravated animal cruelty against Larry Joe Wheelon.
WHEELON HOLDING COURT WITH SUPPORTERS AFTER DISMISSAL OF CHARGES
THE LARRY JOE WHEELON DREAM TEAM